Crust and crumb: no-knead bread

I give up. We’ve baked at least five or six loaves of the widely-discussed New York Times no-knead bread in the last week or so – practically one a day – and I kept delaying posting about it, because I kept intending to save one loaf of bread for a photoshoot before we dug into it. It’s a lost cause.

In the meantime, though, I have to say: this is an amazing loaf of bread. Consistently, despite variations in rising time, baking temperature, and ingredients, it’s resulted in the best bread I’ve ever baked at home: a gorgeously chewy, light crumb (the interior of a loaf), with a thin crisp crust that literally crackles when you take it out of the oven to cool. This is the kind of bread that even bakeries can’t always get right. What’s more, while the length of time is considerable – a quickbread this is not – the actual time you’re working with it is trivial. I spend more time washing up the bowls than I do making the dough!

The only criticism that I heard from other blogs was that the flavor of the bread could be a bit bland. It’s a fair criticism, if you make the bread according to the recipe; the texture’s fantastic, but it tastes like the plain white bread it is. However, I’ve been experimenting with add-ins, and all of them have had great results so far: good extra-virgin olive oil and/or dried Italian herbs give it a tantalizing taste and aroma, and even last night’s experiment with 3/4 cup of ground hazelnuts and a cup of hot cocoa mix went well. It rose more quickly due to the sugar, of course, but the result was light, tender, nutty, chocolatey, and not-too-sweet.

Now all I need to do is acquire a Dutch oven when I return to New Haven. Oh, and hold off long enough to actually get a photo one of these days . . .

No-Knead Bread
Makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf.Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery by the New York Times; further tweaked by me.
Time: 15 to 22 hour total, with 20 minutes of active work

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (or 1/3 teaspoon active yeast)
2 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal, flour, or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. (It should be wetter than normal dough, but not liquid. Add flour or water as necessary to achieve correct consistency.) Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) or piece of plastic wrap with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel or piece of wrap and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. (A smaller pot will result in a higher, rounder loaf.) When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. (However, be careful not to let the dough fold over onto itself, as that will result in veins of unbaked flour inside!) Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Note on baking: While the written recipe specifies 450 degrees, the video online specified 500. If your oven can go that high without smoking, I suggest doing the 500 degrees. In that case, remove the lid after 25 minutes, and expec only 5-10 minutes for browning.

This entry was posted in Food.

6 comments on “Crust and crumb: no-knead bread

  1. Cordelia V says:

    My God, your roommates are lucky people (assuming you have some, now. I seem to recall your mentioning them). I’d offer you free room and board anytime, just to get your cooking services occasionally.

    Thanks for this. I may try it with my kids this weekend.

  2. simonenowell says:

    Sounds yummy! Must admit that I’ve never baked bread by hand, I use a bread maker (don’t shout at me, please), because our oven is rubbish. But I might have to try this one!

  3. threerings says:

    I’m going to try it! I’ve only made bread from scratch a couple of times, but this sounds totally doable.

  4. Cordelia: Well, at the moment, the boyfriend and his family are the ones benefiting from my baking experiments, and given the hospitality they’ve shown me in the past two weeks, I think they deserve it! But if I’m ever homeless, I’ll keep your offer in mind. 😉

    Simone: I definitely suggest trying this one. It’s quite different from most bread-baking experiences, and – as long as the flour:liquid ratio is about right – it’s pretty hard to mess up! However, I can’t resist adding a plug for regular bread-making. There’s something intensely satisfying about kneading dough, releasing all your tension into the dough and watching it become smooth and springy beneath your hands . . .

    Threerings: Excellent! Let me know how your experimentation turns out.

  5. Clairissima says:

    As Esther’s roommate, I’m very much looking forward to Esther’s (and the bread’s) return!

  6. […] (Kneaded) Whole-Wheat Bread No-Knead Bread is nice, but sometimes. . . well, pardon the pun, but you need to knead. Whether it’s the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s